Your Guide to Apartment Composting

Bokashi & Anaerobic Composting

One of the most popular methods of anaerobic composting is called Bokashi – it’s a Japanese term and technique referring to the fermentation of organic material – think of it as pickling your waste!

Unlike the methods described above, which are aerobic composting, anaerobic composting is a closed compost system that should not include air as part of the equation. There is also no need to strictly follow the greens, browns and water equation mentioned above.

Bokashi in particular is becoming quite popular, and is a good method for small, indoor spaces and households that don’t go through quite as many food scraps. However, this method has quite a few considerations, and won’t be an ideal system for everyone.

  • Your supplies are very important, and can be more expensive with this method than in others. You will need a container/bucket with an airtight seal and a drainage component. While you can DIY this, I would recommend that composting beginners purchase their container to ensure proper sealing and drainage.
  • The most vital component for fermentation is your effective microbes, or EM, also called Bokashi bran. You can purchase these online and in stores, or you can make a DIY version, (find recipes here, here and here). The science behind this is a bit more complicated compared to other composting, so do your research and find what works best for you. A word of caution: if you decide to make a DIY starter, or EM solution, you might be dealing with a stinky substance and managing a fermentation before you even get started on the Bokashi system.
  • Bokashi requires weekly maintenance at the beginning of the process. You will need to regularly drain the liquid out of the Bokashi – forgetting to do this or neglecting the system will result in VERY stinky liquid. There is also more thought involved when adding scraps – you want to ensure you are adding them at least every few days and reducing the amount of air going into the container.
  • The finished product of Bokashi is typically buried directly into the soil – it can’t necessarily be used the same way as methods mentioned above. So if you don’t have a yard as part of your living space, you’ll need to find a friend or family member with a garden or yard space who’d like to add some nutrients to their own soil.
  • You CAN include meat and dairy in a Bokashi system, so if this is something you are often disposing of, Bokashi might be great for you. Keep in mind the considerations above however – if you neglect the system and don’t drain the liquid often, just imagine the stink of fermenting meat or dairy.

Okay, so with those considerations out of the way, let’s talk about how you can work with Bokashi. One of the best benefits of Bokashi is the small footprint and ease of use, if managed regularly.

How to use a Bokashi System

Put your food scraps in the container every day or every couple of days and sprinkle with your EM/Bokashi bran. Ensure you are properly sealing the lid each time, and not letting a lot of air get in (move quickly for best results). At minimum once a week, but I’d recommend every few days at least to start, drain the liquid into a container. This can be diluted and used as an indoor plant fertilizer (100:1), and also works well to clean drains around your home (i.e. pour down the kitchen sink at full strength). Repeat until your container is full, then ensure liquid is drained and your lid is sealed, and let it ferment for at least three weeks – do not open it or add any more scraps. If the container is sealed properly, you shouldn’t smell anything from it.

If you live in a cold climate (i.e. Alberta, Canada) you can even let the container sit for the whole winter until the ground thaws. Once the ferment is over, or it’s warm enough to dig into the soil, take your container outside, dig a hole in a garden or yard, and pour your finished product into the hole, cover it up with soil, and you’re done! Now you can restart the process!

Big warning: do not open the container inside once the fermentation is over. It will smell very bad, and very strong. For example, in Edmonton we have a corpse flower in our local botanical conservatory. It just so happened that I got to smell the corpse flower fully in bloom on the same day that I smelled a finished Bokashi bucket, and truthfully, the Bokashi bucket smelled worse.

As Bokashi is a ‘closed’ compost system, there is going to be a period of time where you can’t add anything to it. In the meantime, and if you have space, I recommend storing your food scraps in a bowl or container in the freezer. This will keep the scraps from decomposing and smelling, and then you can dump them into your Bokashi system once it’s ready to be used again.

There are other anaerobic processes that are more DIY, but I wouldn’t recommend them to folks living in an apartment or condo, as they are better suited for folks who have access to a yard and lots of sunshine. Overall, I would recommend that people completely new to composting try an aerobic method first, and then experiment with Bokashi if they are still keen to try it.

How much waste you make is really personal

For example, my partner and I are vegetarians and we eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit, and typically fill up our under-the-sink scrap bucket in less than two weeks. Other folks may make more or less organic waste in a week, and that is absolutely fine! Composting is all about finding a system that works for you, your consumption habits and your lifestyle.

Personally, I create way too much organic waste to have a Bokashi system as my sole source for compost but I do know folks who have two Bokashi containers so that at any given time, one container is active and one is fermenting.

Whatever you choose to explore in your composting journey, I wish you luck and encourage you to find like minded people in your community or online. There are so many valuable experiences and pieces of knowledge out there just waiting to be discovered by interested folks like you.

If you live in Canada, I highly recommend the book Composting for Canada by Suzanne Lewis. I am personally so lucky to live in a city that operates Compost S’cool and a volunteer program that trains citizens with the knowledge and skills to compost, and spread the word about composting and recycling.

Remember, it is okay to fail and try again! Even small steps make a big difference.

Good luck, and happy composting!



Photos from Pexels and Unsplash
Christina Harbak
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Christina is a settler living on Treaty No. 6 Territory in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is a Master Composter Recycler volunteer for the City of Edmonton and loves sharing knowledge and tips about composting, recycling and reducing waste. When she’s not saving bags of leaves from her neighbours garbage cans, she enjoys making jokes with Rapid Fire Theatre. Catch more of her thoughts on waste on her blog yegtrashtalk.wordpress.com
Christina Harbak
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